Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review | Righting the Multiplayer Ship

DLC did it better
MW3 Review
Image via Activision.

Call of Duty is already one of the most unique games to review. No other title offers three entirely separate modes with differing fan bases and alternating histories. To make this year even more convoluted, Modern Warfare 3 is the first direct sequel to a COD title that was clearly meant to be a DLC for Modern Warfare 2. You would think that automatically makes this year a downgrade, and yet, this is the best multiplayer experience since Black Ops 4.

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But an abysmal campaign that marked a new low point for Single Player in Call of Duty also holds the title back. Add a Zombies mode that is essentially a camo grind simulator, and there is a decent case for lackluster content in this game. And yet, this is the COD experience that fans have been asking for over the past five years. Despite being set up to fail, which it does in so many ways, the Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer has set the bar higher than any other titles in the current era.

Multiplayer in MW3 is the Best in Nearly a Decade

Yes, Modern Warfare 3 was clearly meant to be a DLC. Yes, all of the maps are remastered from the original Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. And yes, the gameplay is an entirely upgraded version of last year’s Call of Duty. But when I measure a game, what matters most is the quality despite the problems. I can definitively say that this Multiplayer experience is worth the $70. Many fans and commentators alike are writing this game off because of a lack of “new” content. The reality is, the new content has been bad for years.

MW3 Highrise
Image via Activision.

Starting in 2019 with the Modern Warfare reboot, maps have been terrible. Gun Runner, Hackney Yard, and Shoot House are the only noteworthy maps from that year. And even then, you’ll be hard-pressed to find fans ever asking for remasters of those maps. Every other addition in Modern Warfare 2019 was a cluttered angle fest that abandoned the idea of competitive maps with a flow.

As much as I love Treyarch, they didn’t do much better. Moscow was one of the only standout maps; the rest also lacked the amazing design we expect from Treyarch titles. It wasn’t until we got some DLC over the course of the live service that the map pool felt better. Some of the brand-new designs were great, but favorites from Black Ops 2 held the pool together. 

“Bringing back tried and true maps allows Call of Duty to play like Call of Duty again.”

Fast forward to Vanguard and Modern Warfare 2, and the same problems remain. The maps are horrible. So what’s the solution? Activision finally gave in to requests that players have been making for years. Just release a game that has all our favorite maps at one time. That’s not exactly what happened in MW3 because some of those old maps are also terrible. And yet, they play better than most of the garbage we’ve dealt with since the Warzone era began. I’m well aware that having all 16 maps is a nostalgia grab. Does that change the fact that they are still better than the last four or five years of launch maps? No, it doesn’t.

Bringing back tried and true maps allows Call of Duty to play like Call of Duty again. Don’t be tricked by the appeal of new content. New doesn’t always mean better; unfortunately, for COD, we’re at a point where the old designs are a much better experience.

Gameplay is Back to Its Former Glory in MW3

Modern Warfare 2 was a slap in the face to Call of Duty players. I know there are some players that prefer slower gameplay, and you won’t get that in MW3. However, Modern Warfare 2 went further than that. The game nerfed everything, including shooting while sliding, reload cancels, strafe speed, jumpshots, ADS penalties, and so on. Add a lack of a Dead Silence Perk and no red dots for the mini-map to that list as well, and you have a COD game that was meant for campers and Tarkov players. Modern Warfare 3 fixes all of that.

Slide canceling is back this year, and not in an obnoxious way. I’m one of the first people who will tell you that using slide canceling to reset Tactical Sprint is a horrible mechanic. All it does is force you to slam your thumb through your controller with no end in sight. Sledgehammer made sure to bring back slide canceling, which also leaves a cooldown on Tac Spring in general.

“Sledgehammer Games has reversed the slap in the face that Infinity Ward gave us in 2022.”

Dead Silence also returns as a perk in the form of Covert Sneakers. Ghost only works when moving, so you can’t just stay still and hide from a UAV. Red dots appear on the mini-map when you shoot without a suppressor. Jump shots have much less penalty once again, and there’s even a perk that can boost them. In other words, Sledgehammer Games has reversed the slap in the face that Infinity Ward gave us in 2022, and that has been the focus of most of the game’s marketing.

Each player’s health has also been increased to 150 from 100, which makes the time-to-kill in general much higher. Some weapons will still erase you in three shots, but that’s not the norm. I got some Game Battles matches in over the second weekend, and I assure you that ranged kills are much harder to secure with any weapon. This is one change that I think is better for COD but might divide some fans of the franchise.

Rise and Grind Some Camos

Most Call of Duty players are in two camps: Camo grinders or competitive players. Players who love Search and Destroy or competitive gameplay are already having a good year. However, it’s the camo grinders who truly lucked out.

There are around 900 camos in the game across all MW3 and MW2 weapons. On top of those 900 camos, four separate Mastery Camo grinds have their own category. Aside from Black Ops 4 as a contender, this year has the best Mastery Camo grind I’ve seen in a Call of Duty game. Some of the challenges can be a pain (I’m looking at you, submachine guns), but the grind itself is a worthwhile process that considers each weapon class.

Borealis Camo
Screenshot by Prima Games.

Leveling up a weapon, completing the challenges, and looking at that fresh gold pattern is as fun as ever. Once you do enough of them, you can get your hands on the Interstellar or Borealis camos for the Modern Warfare 3 weapons, which deserve a round of applause for designs that don’t look like a bland abstract painting after countless hours of grinding.

I can assure you that when I’m not in Search and Destroy, or the ranked mode that drops in early 2024, I’ll be slowly making progress for my camos in pubs. Zombies and Multiplayer have separate Mastery Camos, so any of you camo grinders out there have at least 100 hours of challenges to sweep up.

Stop Messing With the Unlock System

Modern Warfare 3 has plenty of aspects that deserve praise. However, there are some really bad decisions baked in as well. One of the worst offenders is the Armory System, which unlocks at level 25 and hypothetically lets you earn some items faster. In practice, the system is completely confusing at best and enough to make casual players quit at worst.

Armory Unlocks force you to complete daily challenges to unlock specific items, even if you’re already level 55, which is the maximum at launch. At the time of this writing, the Armory Unlock system has been altered to give you points for every win you get, speeding up the process. While that’s a good start, the system is still a complete drag and is entirely pointless. We already have 900 camos to unlock, and if you haven’t played Modern Warfare 2, then there are an additional 70 weapons to earn as well. 

Because Call of Duty is an annual release, the developers seem to force random changes to make the game feel new. The Armory System wasn’t fooling anyone. I can’t tell you how many different times I explained how the system worked to friends jumping back into COD this year. In a game about grinding adrenaline-fueled matches for unlocks, the process itself needs to be fun. This wasn’t it.

Leave the Carry Forward Program Behind

What makes Modern Warfare 3 truly unique in the franchise is that all the weapons and Operators from last year transfer over. So MW3 brings almost 40 weapons and MW2 provides the other 70. Of course, this includes nearly all the equipment, attachments, and all the Operator cosmetics.

At first, I was optimistic. Over 100 weapons at launch sounded like a dream for Call of Duty, especially when recent releases have used the year of live service to expand on a weak weapon pool. That wasn’t the case in practice. Nearly every gun from Modern Warfare 2 is useless. Their attachments are worse, the stats aren’t adjusted well, and they still maintain much more visual recoil from the year before.

Derail MW3
Image via Activision.

On top of the bad performance, there is nothing to grind on them if you already played Modern Warfare 2. I earned Orion last year, and as a Carry Forward camo, it still remains unlocked on most of my old weapons. The idea is fantastic, but the reality is that I will never use these weapons. All the launch weapons have something to grind for and are miles ahead in performance. As more weapons release in the year of live service, there is even less reason to use the old tools.

That doesn’t even cover that the attachment pool is full of useless pieces from the previous year. Stats on the old attachments are significantly worse. And yet, I have to scroll through every single one to find the item I want. It’s clunky, confusing for most players, and yet another Carry Forward obstacle that ruins the fresh feel of a new COD.

I would have opted for a system that erases all the old weapons and brings back 10-20 of the MW2 guns with entirely adjusted stats or camos. Not having a new M4 at launch is weird for any Call of Duty game. And now, all those weapons that could have been great additions to the new year will remain covered in cobwebs unless there is an update.

At the very least, I can say it’s been great having all of my cosmetics back to use on day one. Every year in COD, there are terrible skins for around four months. Then the shop gets better, and events bring in some decent Operator options. By the end of the COD cycle, we have skins like Nicki Minaj and Spawn. This year, we get to skip directly to the fun skins. But I would give all that up in a heartbeat if it meant having a traditional COD launch. There is no place for most of the old tools in this game, and it only hammers home that this really is a DLC at the end of the day.

Campaign brings Single Player to a New Low

I’m someone who genuinely likes most of the Call of Duty campaigns. I’ve played nearly every single one since Call of Duty 2, and I always saved them to play around the holidays when the Multiplayer hype was dying down. In the past, the campaign was a fantastic way to kill 8 hours with what was essentially the Marvel Movies of video games. They were action-packed blockbusters that utilized the fantastic gameplay from Multiplayer to wheel you around on rails through memorable moments.

Both Black Ops and the original Modern Warfare games managed to tie in some worthwhile characters with real development and emotion tied to them. The original Modern Warfare 3 delivers some narrative gut punches in between World War 3. What we have in this year’s Modern Warfare 3 isn’t even worthy of the same title or characters.

The campaign is roughly four hours long. Maybe two missions have that epic scale from the original games. Everything else is an Open Combat mission that tries to trick you into believing that these provide more freedom. You’re given an objective, and you can basically take advantage of the small open map to complete it however you want. But that freedom veil was thinner than a sheet of paper.

“Well, if the veil of gameplay freedom is made of paper, then the narrative thread is made of dried-out grass.”

Open Combat missions are just sections of Warzone maps that operate like DMZ objectives. Set pieces are nonexistent. Enemy AI are as dumb as they can get. The atmosphere nearly put me to sleep half the time. Freedom was just a way to circumvent having to actually design levels. 

You might think you should play to see the narrative that ties it all together. Well, if the veil of gameplay freedom is made of paper, then the narrative thread is made of dried-out grass. It’s entirely basic, doesn’t have any worthwhile character writing, and the ending is completely rushed. I was sure that the ending was really just the middle act. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The campaign even tries to mimic some iconic moments from the original campaigns, but they feel like the “at home” version of what once was.

It is a waste of your time, and it was a waste of time for Activision. Just stop making these campaigns if they need to be developed this way. I’m sure most players would appreciate more development in Zombies and Multiplayer.

MW3 Zombies is a Camo Simulator and Not Much More

Every Call of Duty needs to have a third mode. Infinity Ward usually has Spec Ops, and Treyarch has Zombies. Sledgehammer can go either way, and for the first time, Zombies were brought to a Modern Warfare game. I want to start by saying it’s better than most of the “third modes” from non-Treyarch games. However, it’s still a glorified camo simulator.

I have almost 30 hours in Zombies. That sounds like a lot, but I was able to do 95% of the content in a few hours. The mode works much like DMZ: you deploy, collect loot, complete objectives in an open world map, and then exfil before the hour mark runs out. Most of the DMZ elements don’t translate well at all, though.

Zombies MW3
Image via Activision.

Features like the contraband stash are entirely useless without PvP. I have only died a handful of times in 30 hours, and most of those deaths were hilariously bad bugs like rocks crushing me from the sky or just straight-up server crashes. There were even rounds where my squad and I lost schematics for a Wonder Weapon due to crashes.

Aside from the DMZ features, the loop itself gets stale. Your goal is to deploy at Tier 1 and then gear up. You can eventually get to Tier 2 and Tier 3, which are progressively harder. You can Pack-A-Punch your weapons and earn Perks on the map to try to reach it before the hour runs out. Or you can save Crystals and Perks for a later deployment to speed up the process. Those of you who can reach Tier 3 will have a blast the first time. After a few contracts in Tier 3, though, I realized just how easy it was with all my loot, and there was no way to progress after. I could just keep killing Abominations, and then what? Exfil and do it all again? What’s the point?

The story missions offer some incentive to play, but like everything else, they are really just glorified DMZ objectives. At least three of the final Act missions provide some genuinely entertaining moments. In the final mission, there is a real boss to take down. But it’s a long grind to get there, and unless you want the Bone Collector Skin, it’s really not worth it.

I’m only still playing for camos. Zombies brings two Mastery Camo grinds for the MW3 and the MW2 weapons. They look fantastic, and I’m a sucker for cool camos. That doesn’t mean I’m having the time of my life getting them, though. I either have friends to roll with around the map so I can at least talk about something, or I have a show on in the background. Yes, that’s how inconsequential the mode is. With no Easter Egg to complete and no rounds, all that’s left to do is mindlessly kill zombies in an open world with no real personality. When I finish camos and the Acts, I will likely never jump back into this current Zombies mode. At least I’ll have my Borealis camo to show off.

Two Wrongs and Modern Warfare 3 is Still Right

So, Modern Warfare 3 has two strikes out of three modes. Surely, that means the game is bad, right? No, not even close. The reality is that most Call of Duty players are here for Multiplayer. I could talk all day about how awful the MW3 campaign was or how boring the Zombies mode is, but that doesn’t really paint the full picture.

Despite some pretty bad misses in the rest of the game, the Multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3 remains the best since Black Ops 4. I would even argue it’s the best since Black Ops 3. Look at a game like Infinite Warfare, which had a decent Zombies mode and a good campaign. It has one of the most disliked trailers of all time on YouTube, and it remains at the bottom of the tier list for much of the community.

For the first time in years, the multiplayer was tailored to the fans themselves. Movement feels better than ever and the maps in the game are much better than any recent creations in the franchise, despite a grab for nostalgia. The weapons themselves bring back the satisfying gunplay feedback we all look for in a COD title and the change to health makes earning kills more rewarding than ever. Add in all the small changes like red dots returning and a 900 camo selection, and there is a fantastic base to work with as we get ready for another year of content to bolster the game even further.

Most of you reading this just want to know if the Multiplayer is worth sinking 100 hours into. You want to know if the gameplay is buttery smooth, the maps are fun, and if the content holds up. Well, for Multiplayer, it absolutely does. This is a must-play for any Call of Duty fan out there.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Despite missing the mark in other modes, MW3 brings Multiplayer one step closer to its former glory.
  • Gameplay has been improved in every way over last year's release.
  • Classic maps are still better than recent launch maps.
  • The camo grind is one of the best in the franchise.
  • There are tons of weapons and equipment to make use of.
  • The Campaign is the worst in the franchise.
  • Zombies can be fun but is a shallow DMZ grind underneath the surface.
  • The Armory System is a bad form of progression.
  • Carry Forward hinders the weapons in the game.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.
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Daniel Wenerowicz
Dan has been writing gaming guides, news, and features for three years after graduating with a BA in writing . You can find him covering Call of Duty for eternity, action-adventure games, and nearly any other major release.